“We have a tornado warning,” the captain said, standing on a chair behind the stockpot full of venison chili.
Conversation slowed for a moment under the roof of the pavilion. Then voices started lofting back into the space under the overhang, and pretty soon that space was thick with animation, so that nobody noticed the darkening sky.
The day was humid; the air was maddeningly calm. I sat on a corner of the picnic table, swinging my feet and sipping my third peach schnapps wine cooler. The good ol’ boys tossed horseshoes at a short distance. From their hardened faces, they could have been playing ninepin in the Catskills. One or another of them would break off from the game from time to time and amble up to the buffet for another plate of potato salad and javelina sausage.
I watched Matt swing the parabola with his arm outstretched. The veins stood out and flowed to his open palm in his followthrough, and he smiled when he heard the clink of steel shoe against iron spike.
“Nice one, babe,” I called out. A breath of wind wrinkled his T-shirt.
He waved. Then he turned, following my eyes as they shifted to the horizon behind him.
His arm slowly slipped to his side.
Heads popped up. “Where?”
“There!” And he pointed. A vague cloud of dust was swirling toward us. It was a baby, no more than an F1 at most, barely strong enough to pop power lines. But it was enough.
“Move!” yelled Matt, and women scrambled for their cars, yanking wailing children along by tiny fat wrists. The seven-layer dip sat with its plastic lid askew on the buffet. Napkins ruffled from under a corner of the aluminum dish, then blew away in twos and threes, sucked into the inflow of the twister. They fluttered in the air like pages from textbooks on the last day of school.
Matt paused for a moment and took my arm. “Get in the car,” he said. “Go up to Wade’s house. I’ll meet you there.”
I shook my head. “I’m not going anywhere without you.”
“Don’t do this,” he pleaded. “I can’t take care of them and you, too.”
“I’ll be fine,” I insisted. “If it gets bad, I’ll take shelter in the bathroom.” I pointed at a spider-infested concrete disaster at the edge of the field.
He looked at me hard for a moment before letting go of me and running over to the game of horseshoes, which was still going on. I heard him screaming at the good ol’ boys, who eventually took a moment to consider the situation carefully. Finally, one of them left the game and started loading coolers of beer into the back of his pickup. Matt bellowed once, then took off toward the car, where I was keeping my word.
As we sped toward Wade’s house, I watched leaves spiral aloft beside the car, no more than ten feet away. We slammed the car doors and then the screen door behind us, and I crouched in the hall, waiting.